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Pho: absolutely infuriating journey


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#1 dhkim2

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 11:37 PM

I've been trying to make pho like the best Viet restaurants do but to no avail. 6 months, approx. 20 tries, and an unspeakable amount of money later (seriously, my first try involved inviting 10 people over with every meat imaginable... cost me about 150 probably), I'm closer to making some damn good pho, but there's definitely something substantively different about my pho from the ones in the best restaurants.

My broth is usually darker for one thing. Why is that?

My partner in crime is a Viet girl, 2nd generation though, who's a fantastic cook. She has her own blog, has worked for restaurants all her life (French and Japanese though)... and she just can't figure it out either.

I've even approached it scientifically, recording amount of exact minutes spent doing what. I've scoured the web for every single recipe. Have I tried ___? Probably

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If I don't figure something out in the next 7 days, my plan is to go my favorite Viet restaurants around here, and offer them anywhere from 300-700 dollars just to stand around and look while they're doing their thang... and no, I'm not rich, but I'm about to leave the country in 2 weeks, and this has become something of a personal obsession for me.

Any insight from pho connoisseurs would be most appreciated. Thanks.

#2 dhkim2

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 11:38 PM

the last 4 photos were done fairly casually although I still kept it simmering for about 7 hours, or so.

Seriously, why the f is it so dark?

#3 annachan

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 02:17 AM

Can you share how you made the broth? It's really hard to make suggestions not knowing what you've tried.

#4 nickrey

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 02:23 AM

It sounds like an error in making your stock. If you boil it overly or do not skim it continually, it will come out as you described. You could always try clarifying it with finings, something like an egg white raft.

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#5 Jenni

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:28 AM

How does it taste? Is it just the colour that is wrong?

#6 weinoo

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 05:54 AM

Maybe it's just better than everything you've tried in the "best restaurants?"
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#7 avaserfi

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 07:30 AM

I've been on a similar journey, but I had some luck starting with a base recipe from a Vietnamese friends father who has been making pho for years. Of course, the base recipe was a little vague, but I worked with it to make a bowl I am very happy with.

I think the use of a pressure cooker really helps the stock develop full flavor. A higher ratio of meat/bones to water can be used to intensify the stock's mouth feel and flavor, but I tried to balance the stock intensity to avoid overwhelming the other flavors.

It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but hopefully it can give you a good reference point.

http://www.consumedg...011/05/pho.html
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#8 LindaK

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 08:01 AM

Welcome to eGullet, dhkim2.

There's a old topic on pho broth that's worth reading, maybe it will help: the perfect pho broth


 


#9 dhkim2

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:36 PM

Welcome to eGullet, dhkim2.

There's a old topic on pho broth that's worth reading, maybe it will help: the perfect pho broth


oh, i'm very aware of that thread. That thread was the impetus for me joining egullet.

Many of your responses definitely make me question some of my methods. I'll get back to you guys once I go for another round.

#10 dhkim2

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:37 PM

I've been on a similar journey, but I had some luck starting with a base recipe from a Vietnamese friends father who has been making pho for years. Of course, the base recipe was a little vague, but I worked with it to make a bowl I am very happy with.

I think the use of a pressure cooker really helps the stock develop full flavor. A higher ratio of meat/bones to water can be used to intensify the stock's mouth feel and flavor, but I tried to balance the stock intensity to avoid overwhelming the other flavors.

It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but hopefully it can give you a good reference point.

http://www.consumedg...011/05/pho.html



I'll be trying out your recipe within the hour. Thanks.

#11 dhkim2

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:43 PM

It sounds like an error in making your stock. If you boil it overly or do not skim it continually, it will come out as you described. You could always try clarifying it with finings, something like an egg white raft.


I think this may be the problem too. Thanks for the response.

I have 2 questions though. I parbroil fairly intensely for about 15 minutes, so i see minimum "scum." I was told that you should skim every 20-30 minutes throughout the entire boiling process (i'm forgetting the word, the fire is set on very very low though... not boiling but dang it, the word starts with an "s.")

1) Can you just use a mini-colander... Once again, don't have the word for it, just like a.. eh.. a filter that's the size of the palm of your hand that has a handle to filter out all the scum? Cause if I use a ladle, I fear I'd take out too much of the broth.

2) What do you mean by boil it overly? I was told that the best pho restaurants boil in excess of 7-8 hours. I have the light on extremely low however. Could you please clarify? Thanks.


I apologize to everyone for my obvious lack of culinary knowledge as I only started becoming interested in cooking. I'll post my recipe up within the day. Kinda preoccupied RIGHT NOW however.

Thank you for the enlightening responses.

#12 ScottyBoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:46 PM

I'll be trying out your recipe within the hour. Thanks.


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#13 nickrey

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:54 PM

The darkness or cloudiness that you are getting comes from impurities created by how you cook and handle the stock.

What follows is a classical way of making clear stock. It works whether you are making pho or European Beef Stock.

Some cooks put the bones that they will be using in water, bring to the boil and then drain off all the water and any impurities that come out of this first boiling. You may fear that this will remove too much flavour but it typically only removes things that will cloud the stock later. In Western style stocks, the bones are often roasted to brown them and many of the impurities drop off the bones in the pan during this stage.

When you put all your ingredients together, cover with water and bring just to the boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the surface during this process. Reduce to a simmer (that's the 's' word). This is where you keep it for your five hours, skimming often.

When the stock is cooked let it settle. Put a second container next to your stock pot sufficiently large to take the stock. You will be moving your stock to this container using a ladle and a fine strainer. Most importantly, don't pour the stock across as all the impurities will go across. Take a ladle, fill it gently with the stock, and then pour the mixture from the ladle gently through the strainer. As you get toward the bottom of your original pot, you will see that the mixture is getting cloudy. Don't be tempted to put this across to the other pot (you can still use it for sauces).

The clear mixture can be used as is for your stock or you could let it cool in an ice bath and then strain it again through a cheesecloth lined strainer.

Edited by nickrey, 14 August 2011 - 10:56 PM.

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#14 Keith_W

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 10:35 AM

Does your recipe include MSG? Try it on a small batch and see if that gets you closer to the restaurants.

Nickrey is correct that in Asian style cooking, meat and bones are blanched first to remove impurities. If you complete this step correctly, your broth will be almost consomme-like in clarity. No need for egg rafts.

Most Vietnamese restaurants keep their Pho soup recipes very close to their chests. I doubt if they would let you in to their secret, and you won't learn much from watching them work. When Pho is ordered - they cook whatever needs to be cooked, put all the stuff into the bowl, then ladel hot broth over it. You will be none the wiser.

NO thanks for bringing this up. I'm hankering for a good bowl of Pho right now!
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#15 avaserfi

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 06:24 PM


I've been on a similar journey, but I had some luck starting with a base recipe from a Vietnamese friends father who has been making pho for years. Of course, the base recipe was a little vague, but I worked with it to make a bowl I am very happy with.

I think the use of a pressure cooker really helps the stock develop full flavor. A higher ratio of meat/bones to water can be used to intensify the stock's mouth feel and flavor, but I tried to balance the stock intensity to avoid overwhelming the other flavors.

It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but hopefully it can give you a good reference point.

http://www.consumedg...011/05/pho.html



I'll be trying out your recipe within the hour. Thanks.


You are certainly determined. I am interested in hearing about your results/thoughts.
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#16 dhkim2

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 11:06 AM

apologies to all for the lack of a timely response (not that anyone is losing any sleep in anticipation of this thread). Something came up literally minutes after I posted this that didn't allow me for sufficient time to do much at all. Suffice it to say I had to leave the city for the event in question, and I just got back.

I'll definitely buy the ingredients I need and start tomorrow in the morning.



P.S. Is there any way at all to extend the shelf life of veggies like bean sprouts? Put a bunch in my tupperware and it goes bad so quickly... -_- kinda annoying to constantly have to go grocery shopping.

Edited by dhkim2, 17 August 2011 - 11:07 AM.


#17 heidih

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 12:05 PM

P.S. Is there any way at all to extend the shelf life of veggies like bean sprouts? Put a bunch in my tupperware and it goes bad so quickly... -_- kinda annoying to constantly have to go grocery shopping.


I store them covered with water and change the water every other day or so. The bowl is only loosely covered so (perhaps in my imagination) they have breathing room.

#18 Country

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 03:21 PM

P.S. Is there any way at all to extend the shelf life of veggies like bean sprouts? Put a bunch in my tupperware and it goes bad so quickly... -_- kinda annoying to constantly have to go grocery shopping.


I put them in a Ziplock container like this with cover and put them in the fridge. They keep two or three days, or longer if rinsed in a strainer every day or two.

#19 Aaronp

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 10:09 PM

I tried the modernist pho broth today. This involves 5 lbs. of bones, 2 lbs. of oxtails, and various aromatics with 5L of water, cooked in a pressure cooker. It was very expensive compared to going out to a restaurant and probably only landed in the middle of the pack as far as tastyness. I somehow thought with that much meat and bones, it would end up richer and better than what you would typically find in the restaurant. I have made both modernist pressure cooker beef stock and chicken stock and they turned out great but they are rarely the sole focus of the dish like the Pho broth is.

As an experiment, given how much meat was used, I tried running a second batch. I refilled the pressure cooker with water and cooked it for another 1.5 hours under pressure. That broth was completely insipid and had almost no flavor -- it went right down the drain. This indicates to me the pressure cooking method is pretty effective at extracting flavor -- there was none left to extract for the second round.

#20 Broken English

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 10:17 PM

I am yet to find this mystical bowl of 'perfect pho' that is often described. The dozen or so times I've had it to date, it's just been mediocre, yet I keep going and ordering it in search of the perfect dish.

I hope to have my epiphany moment at some stage; where is the place to find the best pho in Toronto?
James.

#21 Shelby

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 05:54 PM

I've never gotten to have "real" Pho from a restaurant....I've always made my own.

I'm dying to try the authentic stuff so I can taste the difference.


One tiny thing, are you using the real rock type sugar? That sure made a difference in the taste of my Pho.

#22 threestars

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 02:20 AM

Tried Pho a couple of times in a small restaurant but I never tried making my own. Hope to try the authentic stuff as well. I hope they don't differ that much.

#23 krishonik

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:00 AM

Haha, I think this is my first post!

Anyway, I've recently been reading the posts on eGullet (and elsewhere) regarding making Pho, and without being discouraging to those who want to try, this is what I know:

• Pho is one of those dishes that pretty much has particular way it should look and taste, and that's it... (in Vietnam, there may be slight variation between north and south and the condiments used, but it's not a big difference). Big variations result in a soup which is not Pho..

• It's hard to get right. Recipes for Pho are handed down within families and they are closely guarded. Also, they are not really written down, they are taught by demonstration and practise until the student has perfected it. I have seen alot of Pho recipes in cookbooks by Vietnamese cooks/chefs released in Australia (where I live), and these recipes are rubbish. I'm convinced that these cooks are deliberately not really sharing the whole recipe or method. Maybe there Pho wasn't that good to begin with

• Pho should not have an overly beefy taste, nor should the aromatics overpower the senses. I've read online that people complain about their Pho not being beefy enough - I have eaten Pho all over Vietnam, and (for the Vietnamese) the best Pho is quite clear and not too heavy with either beef or aromatics, yet you should still be able to smell everything. My friends walk into a Pho restaurant and they say that if you can't smell the aromatics mingling the beef, it's not going to be good.

• It shouldn't be greasy, but it should still have little clear globules of oil on the surface.

• Pho Bo is only made with beef. I've heard of people using other meat in Pho Bo (beef) - it's not right! It's called Pho Bo for a reason! I've heard friends say, oh but they use pork to make the soup... if they did, it would be another soup with another name... (there are so many different soups in Vietnam)

• I live in Australia, and we have a very large Vietnamese population centred mainly around Melbourne and Sydney. I've had Pho everywhere in both these cities, and still the best tasting Pho is to be had in Vietnam. I don't know what it is, but it just tastes better... After I come back to Australia from Vietnam, I can't eat Pho for months, because it doesn't taste as good. I am convinced that in Vietnam they use ox bones as well as normal beef bones, which may contribute to the taste being different. I've have heard that there's very good and authentic Pho in parts of the US where the Vietnamese communities are centred.

However,

I have a friend from quite a large Vietnamese family, and his father makes very very good Pho.... better than anything I've had in any restaurant in Australia, and heading towards what you'd get in a good Pho restaurant in Vietnam. It's not always consistently great, as he hasn't cooked it every day for the last two decades (like some of the best Pho cooks do), but when it's good, it's good, and when it's not good, it's not really that bad. For years, he has refused to teach anyone the recipe (that includes my friend, the eldest son and his younger brother), as they are "not responsible" enough to know. Rumour has it he was taught how to cook Pho back in the 70's by a 'master' with the promise that he would only every teach his sons (apparently the daughters aren't allowed to learn!) and never a non-family member... that's how serious Vietnamese are about Pho!

Anyway, as my friend's father is getting on, and his children (2 sons, 3 daughters) are reaching their 30's, the pressure is on for someone to learn the legendary Pho recipe, and his sons and I (as an 'adopted family member') are prime candidates to convince him to share.

I have made it my mission to actually learn this secret recipe and when I do, I will share what I know on eGullet (I have no problems with open-source cooking!)...

Meanwhile, anyone on this forum who is Vietnamese who has a family member who makes good Pho, should try to make themselves available the next time it's cooked and watch the process from start to finish. I'm consistently surprised at how many Vietnamese I know / meet claim that their parents or grandparents made the best Pho, yet they never bothered to learn the recipe or even observe the process!! For anyone else, if you can convince a Vietnamese cook who has been cooking Pho for decades to show you, jump at the chance!

And for the record, I am Vietnamese, born in Saigon, but since I was orphaned and raised in Australia by a western family, I wasn't brought up with any Vietnamese culture... Learning to eat and cook Vietnamese dishes over the last decade or so has been my little effort to get in touch with the culture I never had!

#24 heidih

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:44 AM

• It's hard to get right. Recipes for Pho are handed down within families and they are closely guarded. Also, they are not really written down, they are taught by demonstration and practise until the student has perfected it.


Along those lines there is an interesting blog post in the gastronomy blog where she chronicles the demonstration lesson given by her maternal grandmother. I generally go out for mine and have not tried her method.

#25 kayswv

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 04:34 PM

Haha, I think this is my first post!

And for the record, I am Vietnamese, born in Saigon, but since I was orphaned and raised in Australia by a western family, I wasn't brought up with any Vietnamese culture... Learning to eat and cook Vietnamese dishes over the last decade or so has been my little effort to get in touch with the culture I never had!


Welcome and thank you for your thoughtful response. We live in the Seattle area and definitely enjoy Pho but my homemade version is nothing except in an emergency when we can't get into Seattle for a good Pho.

I look forward to your posted recipe if you find the one from the masters.
Kay

#26 wanderingspoon

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 05:07 PM

We made pho all the time while I was growing up. Later, when I was trained in French stocks, it was interesting to me to see the overlap in techniques as well as the many differences. I went through a long phase when I made the chicken version mostly, back in my poor student days, but can now luxuriating in the beef version. It does take a lot of time and effort, but it's totally worth it for me, as so many restaurants make such shoddy versions. Honestly, the smell in your home as the broth simmers is simply, deeply luscious.

Andrea Nguyen has an excellent recipe at her site:
http://www.vietworld...oodle-soup.html

A few tips from my own experience:
-- Don't use bones that have been frozen (marrow darkens).
-- Instead of blanching the bones, I rub them well with lots of salt and then rinse them in hot water. Much less hassle and waste.
-- Never, never allow the water to come to full boil. I bring it only to a simmer, and then keep it at a bare shiver for 8 to 10 hours. At the first simmer, I also stir in some cold water and make sure to mix up the bones, too; this helps bring out more proteins for skimming.
-- Skim well at the beginning especially; after an hour or two, you can skim less frequently.
-- Make sure bones are always covered by water. Dry bones above water will turn dark.
-- Add some dried scallops for umami.
-- My aunt likes to throw in a daikon for sweetness.
-- Along with whole cloves, Ceylon cinnamon and star anise, I use long peppercorn, black cardamom and fennel seeds.
-- Not worth making a small amount. Use as big a pot as possible and freeze any extra broth (assuming friends don't eat it all).

My stocks come out pale and clear, and I actually don't bother straining. We just fish out the bigger bones and then serve right from the same pot it simmered in. I know, heresy. But, really, keeping the fuss factor down while making sure there's maximum flavor is the key to making homemade pho bo as fun and comforting as it is delicious.

Thy

Edited by wanderingspoon, 28 June 2012 - 05:11 PM.

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#27 wanderingspoon

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 05:11 PM

Just a quick note about pork bones: I know of some cooks who will throw a few in for a hint of sweet meatiness. More often, though, you'll see oxtails added.
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#28 heidih

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 05:19 PM

Just a quick note about pork bones: I know of some cooks who will throw a few in for a hint of sweet meatiness. More often, though, you'll see oxtails added.


The best one I ever made at home included oxtails. I could not place why it was so close to the best I have had, but the sweetness factor makes sense.

#29 patrickamory

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 06:48 PM

As I understand it, oxtails are essential. I haven't made pho, but when I made bo kho, they added an incredible unctuousness and texture to the stew.

#30 avaserfi

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 06:55 PM

I have also started using oxtails. I find they elevate the dish significantly, especially the richness of the broth. I also like having the additional meat texture in the bowl when serving.
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